Oscar yi Hou puts a queer spin on the portrait

At 25 years old, Oscar yi Hou is one of the youngest artists to ever showcase at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. His solo exhibition East of sun, west of moon focused on the queer Asian American experience — and though it closed in September of 2023, yi Hou himself is only getting started making his mark on the art scene.

yi Hou’s paintings are stark and full. Usually working with oils on canvas, yi Hou creates portraits that are textured and complex, often adorned by golden stars or black text. East of sun, west of moon featured portraits of himself and his friends as iconic figures from Western history and pop culture, from 19th-century Chinese immigrants to Dragon Ball characters. The show earned yi Hou a place on Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

“What drives me to paint is that I cannot imagine a life without it,” yi Hou said in a video for the Brooklyn Museum on what inspired the exhibition. “I’m thinking of the current spike and the rise of violence against people of East Asian descent, and also people in the queer community as well.”

“I think when visibility and representation is seen as an end in itself, it often doesn’t really accomplish much. I think visibility and representation need to be instrumentalized, in the sense that they should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself,” yi Hou continued. “How we make visible people, how we represent ourselves and other people, is very important in the way we do it. I think we should always try and maintain a kind of cutting edge to visibility and representation.”

Born in Liverpool, UK, yi Hou now lives in NYC full time. On top of creating his own art, he has curated a handful of shows, like 2021’s QUEER OUT T/HERE, a group exhibition that featured nine artists who “examine the condition of ‘otherness’ across overlapping lines of queerness and/or East Asian identity.”

yi Hou is also an accomplished author. In October of 2022, NYC gallery James Fuentes released a publication centered on yi Hou, featuring essays, poetry, and more from him alongside other writers and artists. It includes three chapters by yi Hou, including its first chapter, titled, “On languishing, languaging, and loving aka: A dozen poem-pictures. This literary work is a poetic and critical reflection on the “interrelation between stuttering and diasporic ‘languaging.’”

yi Hou’s work often depicts people in relationship to one another, whether friends or lovers, and also features queer iconography. From his sketches of men’s bodies to his work depicting the natural world, it’s clear yi Hou is on the course to become a strong voice in the creative world. 

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